Idaho barley sustains ‘catastrophic’ losses
By John O’Connell
Sprout damage caused by monsoonal early August weather has forced Idaho barley growers to divert huge quantities of malt barley to feeder channels, driving down already low feed barley prices.
Tim Pella, an Idaho Barley Commissioner and program manager over Idaho barley operations for Busch Agricultural Resources, said his company’s contracts allow up to 1 percent sprout damage, and he’s seen loads with up to 50 percent sprouting.
Pella said Anheuser-Busch is evaluating the possibility of taking barley with sprout damage above the contract level. Meanwhile, his company has asked growers to store grain in their own bins rather than bringing it into the plant for storage, and to supply samples for laboratory testing.
He said Anheuser-Busch has been accepting only a small amount of good grain. Other major malting companies in Idaho have taken the same approach.
“We should be wrapping up harvest in Eastern Idaho, and instead, we’re still in the early stages,” Pella said.
Idaho Barley Commission Administrator Kelly Olson credited malting companies for taking “extraordinary steps to use malting barley well beyond what they would consider a suitable sprout level.” She said pre-harvest sprouting can cause low extract yields, off flavors and other problems.
Olson said it’s too early to know how much malt barley will have to be sold as feed but described the damage as a “catastrophic loss.” She said storage bins are in short supply as many Miller-Coors growers have typically stored much of their crops at the plant, forcing those who can’t find other alternatives to sell to feeders.
Olson encourages growers follow usual best management practices and harvest once moisture levels drop sufficiently and to quickly get their crops into aerated storage. She advises growers to avoid dumping barley as feed at harvest and force further downward price pressure and to give malting companies time to determine how much malt can be salvaged.
The contact price for malt barley last fall was about $13 per hundredweight. Barley feed prices, which were only $7.50 per hundredweight due to the expectation of a large corn crop, have recently fallen to $6 per hundredweight due to the supply glut from sprout damage, Olson said.
Rupert farmer Taylor Grant had only 10 percent of his barley harvested prior to the storms.
“It was awesome. It was a great crop coming through,” Grant said.
Following storms that dumped nearly 4 inches of rain on some fields, Grant estimates 6 to 10 percent of his standing barley and 20 percent of his fallen barley have sprout damage. His harvester has also been kicking up a cloud of mold.
“It’s changed the fields to no longer a golden. They’re more a gray,” Grant said. “It will be surprising if very much makes it in that doesn’t get rejected.”
Idaho Falls Miller-Coors grower Gary Dixon had to rent extra bins to store his barley while he waits up to three weeks for his samples to be tested for sprout damage.
Declo grower Mark Darrington plans to hold onto his barley and hope it may still be salvageable as malt. He said friends have already sold hundreds of thousands of bushels of malt barley to feeders.